“I’ll pray for you,” I said to Nicole on the way out of church. It’s a phrase I say often. I usually pray right in the moment, so I can be sure to honor my word and remember a person’s need. As I pulled Nicole close to me, I asked God that her stress would subside and that she would be able to find peace in the midst of her chaos. A single mom with two kids, Nicole had found solace in church after her divorce. What she still struggled to find was balance and a little bit of time to herself.

After catching up in the hallway outside the sanctuary, I knew Nicole just needed a break. She worked a full-time job and had two kids under five years old. Then, as I was praying for her to find rest and peace, something said to me, Why don’t you offer to watch her kids? She needs a break, so give her a break. But I pushed the thought aside and asked God to make a way for her.

No one intentionally tries to ignore people in pain (unless they are a psychopath or someone who kicks little dogs). But sometimes, in our busyness, we fall into dangerous patterns, repeating the same old go-to verses and walking through emotionless prayers by rote. We can get so used to the autopilot ritual or praying for each other that we stop believing we might actually be the answer to someone’s prayer, the solution to someone’s problem.

Throughout the entire book of Ruth, we see a specific theme that occurs in every chapter. It is the blessing of “lovingkindness” given as a prayer over those in need. The Hebrew word is hesed, a summation of the characteristics of God: loving, compassionate, kind, good.

So when Boaz blessed Ruth in chapter 2, verses 11–12, he essentially said, “Ruth, your character and reputation precede you. Everyone is talking about your hard life, but also how you love the Lord and have come here to live among God’s people. I have heard you’ve been loyal and faithful to your mother-in-law, which is so honorable. I pray God will provide for you with food, friends, and family.”

Boaz, a man of stature and status, publicly blessed a barren Moabite widow. His prayer of lovingkindness (hesed) was asking God to provide what Ruth had lost: a home, a family, a husband, a baby, and a future.

There are many functions of prayer, but the one I want to focus on is this: Sometimes prayer changes the heart of the one who is asking.

I want to reiterate something I mentioned briefly before. After Boaz prayed that Ruth would be rewarded by God for her faithfulness, he effectively answered his own prayer. Boaz prayed that God would protect and care for Ruth. Was that prayer answered? Yes. Who did God send to answer the prayer of Boaz? Boaz! I will argue, based on this text, that sometimes we will answer our own prayers.

While praying for Nicole, I dismissed the idea that I might offer her anything other than the prayer itself.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized how absurd that was. Sure, I couldn’t pay preschool fees for Nicole’s children, but I could clean her house. I wasn’t available as a permanent nanny, but I could babysit for a night. So that’s exactly what I did. Like Mary Poppins, I came in with a big bag of tricks (aka cleaning supplies, DVDs and junk food for the kids) and sent Nicole out for a manicure. In no way was I trying to be a savior or a fixer, but I knew surely there was something I could do to help her. As Boaz prayed for Ruth to experience God’s hesed, I prayed for Nicole to experience the same blessing. As it turned out, that meant me answering my own prayer.

Sometimes we shy away from helping because we feel our help is inconsequential or meaningless. But hesed is never without effect. We might be the answer to someone’s problem. We might be the solution to someone’s issue. We might be the hesed we are praying for. Be brave and look for ways to help those in need. Maybe you have a friend who’s struggling with her weight and lack of motivation. What would it look like to reach out and go for a walk together? Maybe you have a family member struggling financially. Could you send them a note and a gift card to make them feel loved? It might not feel like a big donation to you, but in a moment of lack it might feel like a divine provision to them.

Small gestures feel like big love. You’ve got this!

This article is excerpted with permission from How to Have Your Life Not Suck: Becoming Today Who You Want to Be Tomorrow (Zondervan) by Juarez Olthoff.